Siri, a Thai farmer, looked at the ground while standing on her leased land in late June, the rainy season had started, but the rains had not come. She kicked the dirt and said “it’s dry, no water, no rain”. She and her family needed to make a decision. The tractor was hired and scheduled to plow the fields in a couple of days.
During the 10 years I have been documenting Siri and family, this 20 Rai of land had always been planted in rice, but rice can not grow without water.
The rice paddies need to be filled with water. The needed water can come from irrigation or from rain, or both, but water is necessary. In the area of Siri’s farm she does not have access to irrigation, save a small pond, so that means she needs rely on rain for the bulk of her water.
The photo below is of a farmer plowing the fields with a hand tractor. The field is mud and standing water, brought on by the rainy season, and probably supplemented by some irrigation. It is a good example of what is needed to grow rice.
The image below is a section of the field that has been plowed and is ready for planting, but not for planting rice. Rice will not grow without water.
For the first time in memory the family would not plant all of their land in rice this year. They could not, that was a simple fact, however what they decided is a testament to the strength and resilience of this family. If they could not plant rice, they would plant something else. Something that did not require the monsoon rains or irrigation. Siri would chose a combination of plants that would grow with limited water. The list includes bananas, pineapple, coconut trees, durian trees, rambutan trees, and a variety of Thai sweet potatoes.
In the photo below Siri and her grandson plant a banana tree.
Siri’s decision was nothing short of life changing. Growing the crops she chose that are resilient to climate change also take time to grow and mature, years in fact. A pineapple plant takes an average of 3 years to grow, send out shoots, and produce fruit. Bananas are relatively fast growing, but still take time to produce fruit. Coconut trees, obviously need to mature.
A friend asked a question on Facebook after I spoke of the changes. “What if the rains return?” he asked. I don’t have a crystal ball, and don’t have an answer to that question, but I do know this change in direction is for the long term. It has to be, the crops being planted are not seasonal crops where the land is plowed over each year and a new crop planted. This is a big deal, nothing less.
In the photo below a man is preparing to plant a banana tree.
Siri’s decision is also frankly, quite inspiring. A 70 year old woman farmer is planting crops that will take time, even years, to fully mature. She is heavily investing in the future. The future for her family and grandchildren. It would be easy faced with the challenges she is facing to simply retire, as others in our area have done, but Siri is not like other women, she is the matriarch of a large family, has raised nine children, and is presently raising 2 grandchildren and helping to raise 3 more. She is nothing less than one amazing Thai woman.
The gallery below is a selection of photos of Siri and family planting a section of her 20 Rai of leased land in crops resistant to climate change.
Diversity Becomes The New Way Of Farming.
In early July a decision was made to dig a channel from the small pond at the top of Siri’s leased fields to a small section of land. This will irrigate the small rice field.
With the small field now irrigated, it can be planted with rice.
The traditional way rice is planted in a small field is by hand, allowing space between the plants so they can grow stronger and faster as they mature.
After several days of reasonably good rainfall the second week of july, a decision was made to plant another section of Siri’s 20 Rai in rice. A tractor was brought in to smooth the field so rice could be planted. PVC pipes from a small well are run to the land to help water the rice with the expected limited rainfall.
Now with the help of irrigation from pond water and PVC pipes Siri is able to plant 1/2 of her land in rice and the other half in crops that will be resistant to climate change.
In the images below Siri and family move young rice plants from a starter field to her main rice fields.
I will leave you with a couple of images of the rice being planted in the second of Siri’s fields.
I will also say that watching the past couple of weeks play out has been amazing. It went from a decision of not to plant rice this year, to an acceptance of the need for change, and the will and determination to do what ever is necessary to continue farming. I’m sure the crops will succeed and bear fruit, but whatever happens, I have witnessed what can happen when one refuses to give up.